Amazing Views and Serious Market Adventures in Athens

Only in Athens can you have your moussaka with a colorful rainbow-bright salad of shiny purple olives, green peppers, and red tomatoes,  a side plate of olive oil and herb-dusted grilled bread and an accompanying view of the Parthenon.

You can also visit one of the most hardcore, badass, no-yuppie-bullsh*t central markets I’ve ever had the pleasure (and underlying sense of intimidation) of wandering through. This ain’t no Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid , lushly teeming with expensive port and tapas with caviar and design nerd tea towels.  This is a serial killer basement of unidentified animal dismemberment. If you’re squeamish, I’d just stop right now…

Okay. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And I’m doing it again.

Now, imagine your local butcher shop (which may not exist as a concept if you live in the States) and multiply it by about fifty. Then fill it with dozens of men in bloody aprons carrying brutishly large knives who all will approach you as you walk through (admittedly, somewhat unprepared in a tank top and short-ish skirt) and very loudly proclaim in Greek and broken English and attempted Chinese that they very much want to…be your friend. Or something like that. Unfortunately, I  don’t speak Greek.

It was a serious gauntlet of dead animal parts and aggressively friendly butchers.  Here’s what it looked like.

It’s obviously not the kind of market where you go to, say, buy a snack.  Unless you like eating…what are these, dinosaur heads?

Sorry.  I tried to warn you. I have absolutely no idea what animal those came from.  It was as far away from sanitized, styrofoam-and-plastic-wrapped, this-only-differs-from-a-steak-in-that-it-needs-a-few-minutes-on-the-grill, supermarket meat as I’ve ever been.  You can’t pretend that these don’t come from an animal when the entire skinned body is hanging in front of you.

A few of the stalls appeared to exist only in order to showcase the parts of the animal you never knew existed.  The parts that really should remain hidden inside a body cavity and never viewed by anyone except a trained professional. I’m partially fascinated to know if these items can ever be transformed through the magic of cooking into something fantastically delicious, and partially quite sure I never want anything of that texture to get anywhere near my mouth.

I wonder what this little girl is thinking about the enormous buckets of animal intestines in front of her.

After extricating myself from the clutches of several enthusiastically chatty men wielding cleavers…

I made my way into the seafood section. It felt like wandering into a black market aquarium back room, with  seawater an inch deep sloshing over my sandals.  You could buy just about every conceivable fish, ranging from the smallest of sea creatures…

to what might possibly be some sort of bisected shark body.

The beast above looked much bigger in person than it does in the photo. It was most assuredly the largest diameter of fish body I have personally ever seen for sale in one piece.

You could also purchase nearly every possible variation of bottom-dwelling crustacean, mollusk, or bivalve…

small fresh fish, I think sardines, by the shovelful…

…and what looked to be their delicious cured counterparts packed in salt.

Since I was flying back to London that evening and didn’t want to be seen as:

A) a crazy person bringing raw fish on a plane by my thoroughly disgusted fellow passengers, or

B) an absolute psychopath by a poor airport employee encountering a severed and skinned animal head during a routine security check

I refrained from purchasing anything in the main section of the market.

I did, however, continue to wander around the outskirts in search of exciting Greek edibles and more snack-friendly fare and found a few tiny little storefronts full of herbs and nuts and dried fruit. I bought almonds and figs and honey and tasted dried cherries from a nice elderly Greek couple.

I love the endless displays of dried, harvested, cured, and otherwise well-preserved food…

huge vats of raisins and enormous boxes of nuts of all varieties…

and a great wall of herbs and spices of all colors.

We’ll end with my favorite daily snack of my altogether too short trip to Athens: the ubiquitous seeded circle of bready deliciousness, available on nearly every street corner of the city.

Okay, actually, we have to end by coming back to where we started. From far off in the distance with a table of Greek food or up close and personal under the construction scaffolding, the Parthenon is an incredible sight…

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3 thoughts on “Amazing Views and Serious Market Adventures in Athens

  1. irene says:

    Those look like sheep heads to me. Pretttttty crazy. So, I guess this means you didn’t get me one?

  2. maxhull says:

    I was gonna say: “maybe sheep heads?”

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